“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979)

Well, that’s it. We gave it our best shot, it wasn’t good, and it will never happen again. -William Shatner’s first thoughts on viewing this movie

[1] Everything is very straight-faced and sincere. To introduce someone to Star Trek with this film would be a bad idea.

[2] The Enterprise is much more of a physical ship traveling in space, and less of a device to facilitate storytelling.

[3] ...most of the film has the crew standing on the bridge, gazing out in awed-wonderment at all the expensive, and impressive, special effects…

-Excerpts from IMDB comments

I learned that this movie is often derided as Star Trek: The Motionless Picture. So, what’s good about this movie!? The original TOS actors, particularly Nimoy, do the best w/ what they get (which is not much good dialogue). We don’t see much of their chemistry or friendship; everyone seems cold and distant. If you love TOS and/or grew up w/ it in the ’60s or saw reruns in ’70s, then this isn’t a total waste of time. If you’re not much of a fan, then go ahead to the second film (which is great). They basically pretend like this one never happened- LOL! There is a fun scene where Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is sporting a full beard and (very ’70s) casual outfit w/ chunky gold necklace. Also, Gene Roddenberry loved the (now iconic) main theme from the musical score, which he reused for Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). Below this review is the scene which I thought was done very well.

The original script was written by Roddenberry and titled “The God Thing” though it was rejected by Paramount executives b/c of the storyline in which the Enterprise crew meet God. Many other story ideas were considered: preventing JFK’s assassination, becoming the Greek Titans, and trying to prevent a black hole from swallowing the galaxy. The popularity of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) had a big impact on the story, pacing, and marketing of TMP. Many sci-fi fans (incl. writers) viewed Star Wars as fantasy and fluff. Roddenberry always saw Star Trek as a more serious endeavor. The story was pushed toward more complex ideas; the decision was made to have no battle scenes (which hurt the movie). The early promos for newspaper ads had as the line “There is no comparison.”

Orson Welles narrated trailers for this film- a voice familiar to classic film fans! Director Robert Wise was also the editor on Citizen Kane (1941); he also reedited and reshot The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). Welles held a grudge against Wise b/c of the latter work; he probably recorded the trailers b/c he needed money. Wise (who was unfamiliar w/ Star Trek) was convinced to take on the directing job by his wife Millicent (a huge fan of TOS). She also convinced Wise to campaign for Leonard Nimoy’s return. Nimoy agreed to do the film only after Paramount agreed to a settlement of his lawsuit for allowing his TV series likeness to be used by advertisers. Wise (best known for West Side Story and The Sound of Music) is sadly not in his element here; his directing style contributes to its slow pace.

The producers and cast were worried about their appearances after being away from TOS for 10 yrs. In the later movies, the aging of the crew became part of the story. The cast hated the uniforms (as did viewers). One of the cast’s conditions for returning for a sequel was to have new uniforms. It was understood in the script, but not said outright, that Cmdr. Will Decker (Stephen Collins- who also didn’t watch TOS) was the son of Commodore Matthew Decker from The Doomsday Machine. Persis Khambatta (who played Lt. Ilia) was a model from India; she had her head shaved for the role. She has very little to do, though it is rare to see a Hollywood newcomer/woman of color at that time in such a big production. The abandoned TV series (Phase II) was to have three new main characters. Paramount was concerned that Shatner might ask for too much money (if the series was extended). Decker was created, so that once Kirk had to be written out, he could take on the new lead role. Will Riker and Deanna Troi on TNG were later incarnations of Decker and Ilia.

As many have pointed out before, Klingons continue to be the one-note baddies; they were not developed until TNG. The Klingon words spoken by the Klingon captain were invented by James Doohan (Cmdr. Scott). Linguist Marc Okrand later devised grammar and syntax rules for the language, along w/ more vocabulary words in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), and wrote a Klingon dictionary. Doohan also devised the Vulcan words heard during Spock’s Kolinahr ceremony. The scenes were first shot in English, but when it was decided to use Vulcan, Doohan wrote lines (to fit the existing lip movements).

3 thoughts on ““Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979)

  1. I was 10 when this came out — I was *so* excited. It was the first time I was allowed to go see a movie all by myself. And I was so disappointed by the movie. Hadn’t rewatched in all those years, but I saw it again last year in a TCM showing for the thirtieth anniversary and (now having seen a lot more sci fi and just film of the 60s and 70s in general) I liked it a lot more. My read, fwiw, is that the producers decided they couldn’t afford to ignore either the style of 2001: A Space Odyssey or the effects of Star Wars: A New Hope, which were both hugely influential films. I agree that the whole focus on aging was a weird choice, though. Definitely not what a ten year old was looking for in a Star Trek film!

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    • I only saw “2001: A Space Odyssey” once in school many yrs ago- need to see again! I don’t think us teens were much into it, just the teacher.

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      • *40th anniversary.

        My feeling about 2001 is that it’s a concept / art film and was important/influential because *so* many people saw it and were impressed by it. But in terms of it being a film that I’d want to see more than once, or because it was in any way entertaining: no.

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